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The DO’S and DON’TS of Organizing BIG SPACES

Organizing BIG SPACES like garages and basements is on the summer checklist for many people. A fair number of those people may also be dreading the task! What is it about these spaces that make them so difficult to organize and keep organized?  One of the main reasons is a big space like a garage or basement invites us to dump stuff.  Clutter is just delayed decisions and a huge space like an unfinished basement can hold a lot of delayed decisions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of storing things that we really don’t use, but we are struggling with a decision whether to let go or not. If you feel like you are storing more stuff than a Costco distribution center, you are not alone. 50% of Americans name their garage as the most disorganized area of their house.


Having these spaces organized will reap benefits beyond looking neater.  Attics, basement, and garages need to be visually inspected and maintained.  Homewreckers like rodents and water leaks tend to start in these spaces.  In fact, 98% of basements in the US will experience some type of water of damage during their lifespan.  If you have so much stuff that you miss warning signs like dampness or mouse activity, you may lose the stuff you’ve been storing all these years. The number one reason I call in junk haulers is to remove water, mold, and rodent damaged items.


Motivation to tackle these spaces is important, but I want to give you the skills to turn motivation into organization. Here are my DO’S and DON’TS to get these spaces in order and keep them in order.  Because, let’s face it, only professional organizers really enjoy organizing these spaces and you have better things to do this summer.


  • DON’T start by picking up individual items and trying to make decisions one item at a time.
  • DO sort into categories first.

It’s much easier to make decisions about a group of things than decisions about many individual items in a random order. In a situation like this, I often sort everything (EVERYTHING!) in the space while the homeowner does something more enjoyable.  Once I have everything in the space grouped into categories, it’s a lot easier and faster for the homeowner to make decisions.



  • DON’T Organize Clutter.
  • DO edit/purge/let go of items no longer loved, needed or used.

Instead of buying more bins to store what you don’t need, make decisions about what is actually important to keep.  The smaller volume of things in a space will make it easier to maintain organization in the long run (and you will save money on bins). One of my favorite guidelines is the 20/20 Rule from the Minimalists – if you haven’t used something and you can replace it for less than $20 and in less than 20 minutes, let it go.  It’s a great way of realizing that it’s not the end of the world if we suddenly do need the thing that we took to a donation center.



  • DON’T stop before you put a storage system in place.
  • DO put a system in place that helps you maintain order.

If everything is already sorted into categories, it’s easy to create storage zones so that every category has a home.  Invest in shelving or wall systems to get things off the floor and visible. Anything on the floor will be the first thing damaged if your sump pump fails or chipmunks chew their way into your garage.



  • DON’T lose what you truly value.
  • DO store items in the basement correctly.

There is nothing that makes me sadder when I’m working with a client and we find truly precious items damaged by improper storage.  Cardboard boxes are for moving, not long-term storage.  Ideally, paper memorabilia and photos should not be stored in garages, attics or basements but somewhere else in the home where the temperature and humidity are controlled.  My favorite storage solutions for garages and basements are clear bins with a gasketed lid that snaps tightly down.  No solution is 100% rodent, bug, or waterproof but these bins are much safer than bins with loose lids or cardboard boxes.


Ready to tackle those BIG SPACES?  Let my tips make it easier for you to begin to reap the benefits of clear spaces:  less stuff, ease of finding what you need, and protecting your treasures from potential damage.

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Declutter your Move: 5 tips to get you started downsizing

It is not surprising that 61% of Americans believe that the best time to declutter is before a move, and there are good reasons for that. Sometimes having a big deadline like a move, a remodel, or other major life transition provides the motivation needed to downsize your stuff.


Editing the contents of a house before a move feels intimidating, but the rewards are great:

1) you’ll have lower moving costs; 2) it’ll be easier to keep your home clean and uncluttered while it’s on the market; and 3) it’ll take you less effort and time to unpack after the move.


If you are considering a home transition in the future, here are 5 tips to get started with downsizing efforts. Even if the move is to a larger home, you will be thankful you invested time in getting rid of the unnecessary stuff before packing and unpacking those boxes.


5 Tips to Get Started with Downsizing:

  • Stop or slow down shopping except for true essentials. Now is the time to eat into the household inventory of supplies and food!


  • Give donations a home – placing a bin or box on each floor of your home not only captures donations but makes donating easier. By putting the “I really don’t need/like/want this” stuff in the box immediately, that stuff won’t have the opportunity to mix back in with things you do wish to keep. Having your items neatly boxed and ready to go will save time when making a donation run or setting it out for pick-up.


  • Schedule a regular pickup with AMVETS, Salvation Army or another charity.  Knowing that your stuff needs to be gathered together and set out for a charity to pick up on a certain date is a great motivator. (Click here for links to charities that pick-up.)


  • Plan ahead by taking advantage of spring/summer recycling programs and Earth Day recycling programs and events in your area to eliminate paint, Styrofoam, electronics, etc. For example, I live in McHenry County, and the McHenry County Defenders publishes a comprehensive listing of recycling programs/locations and items at


  • Many charities offer free pick up for furniture in good condition–but don’t wait too long to schedule. They are often booked 2-3 weeks out or may only pick up in your neighborhood on certain days of the month. The same goes for consignment stores. You can always schedule a pick-up far in advance, just don’t count on scheduling a pick-up at the last minute.


Consider a professional organizer

These tips will help with any downsizing effort and are almost painless when you have several months before the move date.   If you don’t have the luxury of time, a professional organizer who specializes in life transitions can be invaluable in working with a very tight schedule. I’ve helped families prepare for moves out of state in less than two weeks! It can be done, but it takes expert (organized) resources!

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Why Label a Label Maker?

Clearly, this is a label maker.  To be even more obvious, it’s a label maker in a CLEAR container.


So, why go to the trouble of labeling something that is so clearly what it is? It may look like overkill until we understand how this space is used and by whom.


Imagine this scenario…


  • Boss needs the label maker and takes it from the supply closet.
  • Office Manager asks to use it when Boss is done.
  • New Employee notices the label maker and asks to use it next. New Employee didn’t even know the office had a label maker. Oh, happy day!
  • New Employee is done with the label maker and puts it away. He doesn’t want to bother Boss or Office Manager, so he puts the label maker somewhere that seems logical.
  • Six months later, Boss needs the label maker but cannot guess that logical location the label maker is residing in. Having no idea who used it last, Boss doesn’t even know who to ask.


My job as a professional organizer is to put organizational systems in place to not only look nice but to help my clients stay organized with minimum effort.


This particular label maker is in the workplace of a long-term client of mine with 20+ employees and a steady stream of customers.  In these types of environments, I label EVERYTHING.


Human behavior is predictably unpredictable, and the place that seems logical for one person may be literally the last place another person would think to look.


It’s the same reason kindergarten teachers label the bin full of Crayons.  They are Crayons in a bin.  Does the bin really need a label?  Yes, it does.  A teacher is managing 20+ small humans and doesn’t want to end up with crayons in all of the bins.


Labels maintain order.


Labels help teach ALL the users of a space how to maintain that order.


Labels are like road signs – a road sign makes it possible to navigate in an area a person is unfamiliar with.


Labels help all the users of an organizing system navigate that system.


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Too Groggy to Spring Forward

For a those of us already sleep-deprived, daylight savings time can have a major impact on productivity.  Losing that hour by springing forward can take the spring right out of our focus and alertness.  In fact, studies have shown traffic accidents increase by 23% on the Monday after we set our clocks forward!  The best way to prevent these known productivity, safety and health hazards is allow our sleep schedules to gradually adjust in the week leading up to changing our clocks.  Life has a way of happening, so here are few tips to make Monday a bit better for the rest of us…

Get more exercise or fit in a nap

Even a short walk or a few stretches at your desk can boost mental focus.  Conversely, a 20 minute nap can boost alertness.  Research on pilots shows that a 26 minute nap in flight (thankfully while the co-pilot mans the controls) results in a 34% increase in performance and a 54% increase in overall alertness.

Reduce screen time before bed

Improve the quality of the sleep you do get by reducing screen time before bed.  Research shows that the blue light cast by our digital devices disturbs quality of sleep and leaves us groggy in the morning.  Sleep experts recommend we limit screen time for at least two hours before bed.  Also, say no to checking email before bed in order to drift off to sleep peacefully.  I learned this tip from a friend who practices law when he told me that “Nothing good comes from checking email after 9PM”!

Use these techniques to stay focused and avoid ‘cyber-loafing’

Change your phone from the brightly colorful distractor it is by enabling ‘grey-scale’ in your accessibility menu.  It’s a cheap way to make your phone very boring.   There are also great apps – Forest is my favorite – that create the cues and rewards we need to stay productive.

Set a timer to stay on task

The Pomodoro Method has been around for decades because it works.  I’ve found it’s a powerful way to get something (anything) done on the unfocused days.  Here’s a cute, short video that illustrates this technique perfectly.

Be safe and productive!  Let’s all get through this week and build the skills of productivity that benefit us year-around.




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Too Much Stuff to Love

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. – Willian Morris

Even if you haven’t seen this quote, chances are you’re not sitting at home buried in ugly, useless stuff.  So why are you still frustrated by your stuff? I see this frustration every day with my clients.  Clients hire me because their homes and offices aren’t working for them.  They hire me because they seem to have a lot of stuff but can’t find the stuff they are actually looking for. These clients often don’t have a clutter problem so much as they have an INVENTORY problem.  If you think you fall in this category, read on for powerful tips to better manage the stuff we use, love and need.

How do we end up with too much inventory? We buy stuff ‘just-in-case’.  It doesn’t feel like an impulse purchase if we know we will find it useful at some point. It’s easy to grab this ‘useful’ stuff when we are already in the store buying something else. Marketing gurus know this about us and attractively display this stuff on end caps and check-out lines. We aren’t making the mistake of buying stuff we don’t have a use for, BUT we are buying TOO MUCH of what we use. The irony is this extra inventory actually leads to disorganization. We can’t ever seem to find what we are looking for, so we buy more of these things the next time we are shopping.  Break the cycle of disorganization by following my key tips.

Know what you Have  (Like with Like)

One of the key tenants of organizing is putting like with like.  If you don’t store the same stuff in the same place, it’s impossible to know how much stuff you actually have. Sorting into like categories reveals how many scissors, rolls of tape or granola bars we own. It was during this sorting process that one client discovered she had 6 soup ladles. We couldn’t help but laugh when she confessed to me her family almost never eats soup. 

Know what you Need (Minimal Effective Dose)

This is a great tip from Joshua Becker of the Minimalist that he took from the medical world – Minimal Effective Dose. Doctors don’t give you medicine plus extra pills ‘just in case’ those extra pills might be helpful.  Medical drugs are extensively tested so doctors know the minimum amount to give a patient to cure them without creating harmful side effects. Your stuff is the same; you may need 4 black t-shirts but if you own 14, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the very things you use and need.

Understanding minimal effective dose or the right inventory level means we understand how many bottles of ketchup or rolls of paper towels or black t-shirts are needed for our household to run efficiently. Anything over that number creates more work to maintain order and contributes to clutter.

Know what not to buy (Don’t Buy List)

At this point, we understand what we own and we understand how much is too much. How can we be sure to not repeat past mistakes of over purchasing? I help my clients create a Don’t Buy List. When we identify excess inventory, we add it to the DON’T BUY LIST. Make sure the list is with you in some form when you shop (paper, phone or app). It can be as simple as taking a photo of your pantry with your smart phone to remind you that you already have 4 unopened boxes of gallon ziplocs. Reference this list when in the store and tempted to buy more ziplocs because you know they are useful but you aren’t sure if you have enough.  The Don’t Buy Lists gives us the comfort that we have enough.

Bottom line – effective organization means we know what we have, where to find it, and how much we need.  The time we invest in the organization process will be paid back with improved efficiency, less stress and better purchasing decisions. It means our house is less warehouse and more home.

Organizewell to Live Well!

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Happier Holidays

Are you looking forward to the holiday season or are you feeling a little grinch-like?  Whether you love the holidays or hate them, a little planning now will go a long way to making Happier Holidays.  Take a minute to reflect on last year’s holiday season and write down the good, the bad and the ugly.   Use that hard-earned information to plan a most stress-free holiday season:

What could you have delegated? It’s ok to ask for help. Make a list of those tasks and assign resources other than yourself.

What could you have outsourced?  Make those appointments now before companies are booked!

What did you hate doing? Don’t do that.

What was fun, enriching, and enjoyable? Plan for more of that!


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Find Time to be Productive

The holidays are an insanely busy time of the year for many of us.  We have so many things on our calendar – work, social and family events – that it’s hard to find blocks of time to work.  My productivity tip is to be ready when you do ‘find’ time.  We find time in our day when something opens up; for example,  we finish a task early, the person we are meeting is late, a client ask to reschedule, our flight is delayed.  We all get these little pockets of time but sometimes have a hard time putting them to use.  Capitalize on found pockets of time by preparing for them.  Start by answering these questions:


If I had 15 minutes, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.

If I had 30 minutes, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.

If I have an hour, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.

If I had three hours, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.


By queuing up these tasks and having resources on hand, we can jump right into working rather than wasting precious minutes wondering what to do with our found time.

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Spooky Spaces

I have watched enough scary movies to know that bad things always happen in spooky spaces like basements.  I hate scary movies so it’s ironic I spend so much of my professional career in basements.  Clients call me because the thought of an ax wielding psycho may not be as scary as the reality of 20+ years of accumulated stuff hiding in their basement.  Piles of unknown stuff can make anyone want to run back up the stairs and slam the door.

If you are one of those people who has a spooky basement, there are real things Organizewell can do to make it less terrifying:

  • Quickly identify, sort and categorize what is down there so it’s easier for the homeowner to make decisions.
  • Make ‘delayed decisions’ less intimidating by creating a decision framework for clients.  This helps by reducing the number of decisions the homeowner must make and by giving them the comfort to know we are ‘keeping the best and letting go of the rest’.
  • We make stuff disappear – Organizewell has a network of recyclers, movers, junk haulers and charities that will happily take what clients no longer want.   Poof, it’s gone.
  • Organizewell transfers the skills and systems to keep basements from becoming haunted by stuff again.

Turn your spooky space into a sanctuary space for you to enjoy… or at least, not to fear…


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3 Tips for Better Information Organization

84% of business owners are working over 40 hours per work and report that the top stressors are missing information (Wrike, Work Management Report, 2015).  Can you find the information you need in less than a few minutes? If not, it’s time to overhaul your filing system to set yourself up for growth:

  1. Consistent digital file naming conventions (nomenclature). This has always been a business best practice but is doubly important now that digital files constantly move between people, devices and the cloud.
  2. Segregation of reference paper, working files and projects. Piles of paper are not necessarily a bad thing, but piles of paper should not be the primary filing system.
  3. Beware of FOMO (fear of missing out) paper – that article you mean to read, the social media tips you printed out, the invitations/classes you may attend. Toss the paper by transferring date sensitive decisions to your calendar and use an app to store the other information. I use Evernote to dramatically reduce the paper in my office and stay on top of things.

If you’ve been in business more than 3-5 years, overhauling paper and digital files will result in tremendous productivity gains.  Contact me for a free small business assessment.

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Delayed Decisions = Clutter

They say only keep the things that are beautiful, useful or needed. Obviously, ‘they’ do not have a basement. It’s so very easy to put off making decisions about what to do with stuff and just let those delayed decisions pile up in places like basements, attics, and backs of closets.

Periodically, we vow to attack the clutter! Of course, we start by buying bins and clever containers. That’s right – we buy more stuff because we have too much stuff. But why spend money to organize stuff that’s just clutter? Why are we hanging on to all this stuff??

Because it’s HARD to get rid of it.  Once stuff is in our home, it takes WORK to get it out.  Decisions have to be made and decisions can be difficult and stressful!  We get hung up on the very best way to get rid of the stuff we don’t even want – it’s like we are trying to find good homes for an unexpected litter of kittens.  Kittens are adorable but clutter, not so much. Here are some tips I use with my clients to help them work through these tough decisions:


Decision #1

The delay…You paid a lot of money for it and you feel guilty by getting rid of it.

The decision…That money has been spent and can’t be unspent.  Instead of worrying about what has been spent, consider the cost of continuing to keep things you don’t want, need or use.  Those costs include extra housework, cost to store and worry.  When we let these things go, we gain the value of space and calm.


Decision #2

The delay…the item was gifted or inherited, and you feel bad for not keeping it forever.

The decision…Do you love it?  No, but you loved the person who gave you this.  Feel that love and honor it.  More than likely, you have other things that better represent this person so focus on those things and let go of the things that don’t represent that person as well.  Letting go of these less treasured things makes room for what we truly treasure.


Decision #3

The delay…You are just not sure the best way to get rid of something.  Do you sell it, donate or toss it?

The decision(s)…

  • Sell it…time is money. Weigh the value of your time to sell something against the expected selling price.  For example, the cost of your hours to organize a yard sale or post the item online and follow up with potential buyers.  Is the expected value of the item worth your time?
  • Donate it…it’s wonderful if you find a charity that supports a cause you care about, however, don’t get too stuck on finding the perfect charity.  Items gathering dust in a basement have a much better chance helping others when they are out of the basement and in the hands of a charity.
  • Toss it…If you wouldn’t give it to a friend, it doesn’t belong in the donation bin.  There are a number of ways to recycle or dispose things in an environmentally responsible way.

As a Professional Organizer, I help people make these decisions every day.  If you are unsure what to do with something or feel stuck, contact me.  I love getting people unstuck from their stuff!